Mental Health Awareness – connecting with nature to improve mental health

27 May 2021

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week, hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, examined how connecting with nature improves mental health.

Mental health is a subject that is often misunderstood, and many still find it difficult to talk about, but as an employer, what does it actually mean and how can you help?

What is mental health?

Mental health is our psychological and emotional  state, which can be good at some points, less so at others, and even poor at times. Mental health is not the same as mental illness, and it is important to understand the difference.  

Our mental health can change on a scale, depending on several factors.  In the same way as physical health might change, our mood, our reactions to situations and ability to deal with problems may also change.  

Talking positively about mental health

Due to the connection our minds make between mental health and mental illness, the subject is not always discussed in the most positive way. Employers can have a positive impact on the way mental health is viewed, through continuous engagement and initiatives. This can be simple and inexpensive. For example, senior leaders sharing personal stories can have a profoundly positive impact and costs nothing, or introducing an employee assistance line can have a positive effect and is relatively inexpensive.

Mental health and nature – some ideas to create positive involvement and discussion

Keeping the theme of ‘connecting with nature’ in mind, here are some suggestions of ways employers can start discussions and generate some interest in this area:

  • A reminder to take a break from work and get outside.
  • Whether someone prefers a quiet sit in the garden, a walk to the shop or a run around the park, getting out into the fresh air is important for physical and mental health, particularly for those who are working from home and are otherwise sedentary for most of the day. People may not naturally leave their home in the same way as they would leave the office environment to take a break, possibly due to lockdown restrictions.
  • Suggest taking time to notice the things they wouldn’t normally pay attention to, for example  blossom falling from the trees, shapes in the clouds or the sound of bird song. Encourage employees to tune out from work and tune in to nature. 
  • Start a group optional activity such as growing herbs, fruit or vegetables.
  • Consider hosting a regular coffee and chat for those who want to join, with a ‘topic of the week’ to generate discussion. Ideas could include:
    • Have you discovered new places to walk during lockdown that you may otherwise not have found? Have you joined a local 'Womble' litter picking group?
    • Any tips for those who are less green fingered?
    • Share your photographs of nature

More ideas to help as we return to the workplace

Employers should not underestimate the impact lockdown has had on people’s lives, and the impact that returning to ‘the new normal’ will have. People will have had very different experiences; some positive and some negative.  Among organisations we are currently working with there is a broad range of feelings around readiness to return.

We have written several articles relating to mental health and returning to work to address some of these key considerations and provide some practical guidance when welcoming your employees back. For more HR advice and guidance please contact Kerri Constable in the first instance.